Have you ever felt like an outsider in the Church? I have. Like many Christians, I grew up in a loving family and attended church since the day I was born. I participated in Awana and Sunday school, I even got awards for good behavior and memorizing Bible verses. But when I became a teenager everything started to change.
Certain events cast a long shadow over my faith, and I struggled horribly with doubt. How could I have a place at God’s table when I was so unsure of my own belief? For me, that question was the beginning of a long journey that eventually led me back to Christ. I share this, because in my own way I can understand where author Alana Massey is coming from in her recent piece How to take Christ out of Christianity. As an agnostic, and former Episcopalian, Massey asks Churches to make room for unbelievers who want to remain connected to the Christian lifestyle.
In response to her article, Denny Burk of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary correctly pointed out that you cannot separate Christ from Christianity. He writes,
“Faithful churches would do well to welcome unbelievers to hear the word preached. It is our mission to make real and vital connections to seekers. But churches would lose all integrity if they did what this author is suggesting. ‘Creating spaces’ in the membership for those who are ‘culturally Christian’ is making a place for those who have a form of godliness but who deny its power (1 Tim. 3:5). Light cannot fellowship with darkness (2 Cor. 6:14). And it is a recipe for spiritual ruin when a church’s membership makes no distinction between disciples and the world, and yet that is exactly what this article calls for. In short, this article is a non-starter for faithful churches.”
Though what Burk says is true, his approach treats the symptom and not the true problem. Too often the Church has painted doubt as a kind of spiritual failing. Afraid of what their peers might think, Christians stop asking important questions and put on a cheerful mask of self-assurance instead. The end result are congregations that look spiritually healthy, but fall to pieces when trouble hits. That is not the way God created things to be.
Christians need to make doubt safe again. As Dr. Stanley J. Ward has written, we need to remember that even the best of Christ’s followers had uncertainty,
“Know that you are in good company. A number of Biblical heroes had their own struggles with doubt as well as the sometimes infamous disciple Thomas. And this brings us full circle, back to the beginning of the article. I take comfort knowing that other believers have asked similar questions. And if my first assertion is correct that doubt is one of the ways we learn about the world around us as we grow, then of course a growing believer will have doubts. Take heart, your doubts are a sign of your willingness to grow.”
Doubt is the soil in which our faith takes root. It’s an important part of discovering who God is and how to build a relationship with Him. Remember, the moment we think we have it all figured out is the moment we stop pursuing Jesus, and you can’t take Christ out of Christianity.
What about you? Can we make room in the Church for those who are struggling?
**Ryan Duncan is the Entertainment Editor for Crosswalk.com